One of the peculiarities of the Arkansas beer industry is its split personality. The largest breweries by volume are located in Northwest Arkansas and the Little Rock metro, the two most populated parts of the state. Yet many of the newest breweries are in cities and towns with more modest census counts. It is an urban-rural divide that’s hard not to notice.
New Arkansas breweries include Point Remove Brewing Co. in Morrilton (with an estimated population of 6,645), Ouachita Brewery in Mena (pop. 5,490) and Native Dog Brewing Co. in Camden (pop. 10,749).
Of the 48 breweries operating (or on the cusp of operating) in Arkansas, 25 are in cities with populations of 40,000 and greater — Little Rock, Fort Smith, Fayetteville, Springdale, Rogers, North Little Rock, Bentonville and Pine Bluff. The rest are in cities and towns that fall below that threshold. In many cases, far below that number.
The smallest incorporated community in Arkansas with its own brewery is Big Flat (pop. 23), home to Gravity BrewWorks. StudDuck Beers is located in Lonsdale, which isn’t much bigger at 142.
Arkansas’s rural breweries are spread throughout the state. It’s rare to see them cluster together in a country setting. One exception is Logan County (with an estimated total population of 21,466), where three breweries have opened within a few minutes of each other: Country Monks Brewing in Subiaco, Prestonrose Farm & Brewery near Midway and Pridgin Family Brewery in Scranton.
To an outsider, Logan County is an in-between place. It is located between the Ozarks and Ouachitas, with the mountains on either side of the county framing fertile farmland that would otherwise resemble the Arkansas Delta. It’s also between Fort Smith and Little Rock — two major population centers along Interstate 40. Travelers rarely detour from the highway to visit the sleepy farm towns of Logan County. It’s a shame, too, because there’s some good beer to be found there.
Stephen Koch wrote about Country Monks and Prestonrose for the Arkansas Times in 2019. His story has in-depth information about each brewery. Needless to say, the history of the beer-making monks at Subiaco Academy is fascinating. And just 5 miles to the east, a peaceful farm backdrop makes drinking beer at Prestonrose a special experience.
Pridgin opened near Scranton (pop. 241) in August 2020. Youngest son David Pridgin Jr. pitched the idea to his parents, David and Reba Pridgin Sr., after falling in love with craft beer while working out of state. Although mom and dad don’t drink beer themselves, they saw a business opportunity worth an investment.
Reba Pridgin said the business goes with the territory. Her grandparents immigrated to nearby Morrison’s Bluff from Germany, and she remembers her mother and others making homebrew when she was a child. “It was something that a lot of families did around here,” she said. “They made their own wine and their own beer.”
David Pridgin Jr.’s brother-in-law Heath Spillers, a science instructor at nearby Subiaco Academy, joins him as co-brewer. The pair previously homebrewed together. The three Pridgin sisters (Mary Jane Spillers, Lori Garvey and Kari Tedford) also contribute to the business by working in the taproom and handling bookkeeping and scheduling.
Opening a brewery was a gamble for the Pridgins. Even with Country Monks and Prestonrose seeing success, beer tastes still tip towards cheap industrial lagers (e.g., Bud, Miller and Coors) in Logan County. Fighting with local officials to secure necessary governmental go-aheads was another early worry for the family.
“We were so concerned about the politics that might be involved in getting permits, but everybody was really good,” Reba Pridgin said. “They came to the realization that what we were going to do was enhance the local economy. So, they were on board with us.”
The Pridgins built their brewery on the family’s property on Rodeo Arena Road, to the northwest of town. It has the look and feel of an old farm building, but was designed and constructed with brewing in mind. “It’s neat seeing breweries in old buildings,” David Pridgin Jr. said. “But knowing the challenges of plumbing and kitchens, we thought it would be better to do it this way.”
Repurposed barn wood is used throughout the taproom, and various farm tools and equipment are on full display. The 4,000-square-foot building has an open feel, with large windows looking across the farm valley to the north. A wraparound porch with outdoor seating shares the same view. “Mom and dad painstakingly developed and saw this place put together, and they did a really good job,” David Pridgin Jr. said.
The brewhouse is a three-barrel system purchased from a defunct New York brewery. A Brewmation control panel automates key brewing processes. There are four three-barrel fermenters and two seven-barrel fermenters in the main brewing space. A large walk-in cooler behind the bar holds kegs and two brite tanks full of conditioning beer. Altogether, it’s a well-assembled set of brewing equipment.
Sales are taproom-only at this point. The idea is to start slowly and later decide if enough beer can be made to distribute beyond the brewery. “We all have full-time jobs, so we want to limit how often we brew,” David Pridgin Jr. said. He also works at Entergy’s Arkansas Nuclear One in Russellville. “We don’t want to be here all day every day. We want to make enough to serve here in the taproom, and once we get our feet under us, we’ll figure out what’s next.”
Beer styles were chosen with local tastes in mind. The lineup is full of approachable beers that will be familiar to most people by name, if not by taste.
“Around here you’re talking about a Busch Light or Bud Light type of crowd,” David Pridgin Jr. said. “We want to appeal to anyone that wants to come here, including people who are not used to craft beer. As a gateway beer, I usually suggest a wheat or the cream ale.”
Offerings include Corner Post Cream Ale, Haymaker IPA, Nine Pin Wheat, Full Pull Wheat, Homestead APA, Rough Rider Pale Ale and Bluff Ferry Porter. The brewery also has local wine and cider available for those seeking non-beer options.
Eventually there will be more adventurous offerings at the brewery. The brewers aim to make hazy IPAs at some point, and they also want to try their hand at brewing a kettle-soured beer. “We’ve learned a lot, but at the same time, we know we have quite a bit more to learn,” David Pridgin Jr. said. For now, he and Spillers will focus on more standard fare.
It wasn’t long ago that the thought of a modern craft brewery having success in rural Arkansas seemed crazy. There were neither the headcount nor the palates to support such a thing. Yet more and more, we see entrepreneurs taking the craft beer plunge in places like Scranton.
All across the state, people like the Pridgins are proving craft beer to be the most egalitarian of drinks — celebrated by city-dwelling urbanites and small-town country folks.